All religions are clearly not the same thing
Q: Are all religions the same? The Dalai Lama, who just celebrated his 75th birthday, often refers to the 'oneness' of all religions, the idea that all religions preach the same message of love, tolerance and compassion. Historians Karen Armstrong and Huston Smith agree that major faiths are more alike than not. But in his new book "God is not One," religion scholar and On Faith panelist Steve Prothero says views by the Dalai Lama, Armstrong and Smith that all religions "are different paths to the same God" is untrue, disrespectful and dangerous. Who's right? Why?
It would be nice to believe that all religions are essentially similar phenomena, with basically parallel content, all leading toward the same goal. While it is possible to map certain patterns in human religiosity, these help us very little in getting inside the lived reality of any actual religion that real people practice. And it is only when we get inside the living reality of a religion that we can build mutual understanding. I bring my particularity and you bring yours; as we dialogue we do not look for essential sameness but illuminating differences. These differences may in surprising ways reveal truth to both of us.
I will go further and say not only that all religions are not the same thing, but that there is no single version of any living world religion. That is certainly true of my own faith, Christianity. Despite much that is shared, I am convinced that there are many different Christianities, and that these differ not just on doctrinal lines but on the kinds of lives that are produced.
It was Holocaust survivor and sociologist Nechama Tec who reminded me of this in an unforgettable way when she was asked at a conference I attended whether Christianity motivated people who rescued Jews during the Holocaust. She said that it wasn't "just any kind of Christianity" that led to rescue but only "a certain kind of Christianity." I have spent much of my career trying to discern and maybe even teach what that certain kind of Christianity might look like.
July 7, 2010; 3:28 PM ET
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Posted by: mono1 | July 9, 2010 9:27 AM
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